At Banking Hearing, Tester Urges Administration to Do More to Protect American Farmland from Adversaries
Senator: “I personally think agriculture and food is national security. And I think there are dictatorships around the world that use food to control people. I don’t want to be in that situation otherwise our democracy will be gone.”
Secretary Yellen: “I know that you’ve been a leader in proposing such regulation”
Speaking at a Senate Banking Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Jon Tester pressed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the current threat that foreign adversaries pose to our food security and national security through their ability to purchase American farmland and agribusinesses.
“I want to talk a little bit about Russia and China, and particularly China. There is no doubt that they want to replace us as the world’s economic leader. I mean, that’s a given. It is also a given that they’re not gonna play fair. They never have and I don’t think they ever will,” said Tester at the beginning of his remarks. He continued by asking Secretary Yellen: “Do you feel you have a handle on these threats and where they’re coming from? … As it applies to our financial system, because if they can undermine it, take away our confidence in it, they’ve gone a great step towards achieving their goal.”
Tester then directly pressed Secretary Yellen on his bipartisan legislation to prevent foreign adversaries from acquiring U.S. farmland and agribusinesses: “So let me talk about a different issue that Senator Rounds and I have been working on for a long time and it deals with four countries… North Korea, Iran, Russia and China as it applies to buying farmland. We have a bill we’ve asked CFIUS really take the lead on it and I just kind of want to get your help on this because quite frankly, we’ve got some pushback because CFIUS doesn’t think this is in their purview. I personally think agriculture and food is national security. And I think there are dictatorships around the world that use food to control people. I don’t want to be in that situation otherwise our democracy will be gone.”
Tester continued: “So the real question is, when it comes to buying farmland and agribusiness, does CFIUS have the capacity to be able to analyze and make a determination [about] what’s going on? … I’m talking about everything in the United States, not just next to military facilities, which by the way, I don’t think has been done very well. But I’m talking about even if they’re buying it next to my farm, if it’s a person connected with any one of these four countries’ government, do we have the ability to make a determination?”
In response, Secretary Yellen expressed the need for Tester’s bipartisan legislation to prevent foreign adversaries from buying American farmland: “For CFIUS to take action on this, I think would require legislation,” said Yellen. “I know that you’ve been a leader in proposing such regulation and I believe the Treasury Department has worked with you, and we’re certainly happy to.”
Tester concluded his remarks by calling on the Treasury Department and the Biden Administration to be more proactive in tracking land purchases by our foreign adversaries: “I think it is a real threat that we need to take seriously. We just found out about a Chinese billionaire that about 200,000 acres in Oregon. We didn’t know a damn thing about it till after the fact, after the fact it becomes a problem. We need to be more proactive.”
As the only working dirt farmer in the U.S. Senate, Tester had led the charge to protect American food security and national security by cracking down on ownership of U.S. farmland and agribusinesses by foreign adversaries.
Tester has introduced two bipartisan bills — the Protecting America’s Agricultural Land from Foreign Harm Act and the Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security (PASS) Act — to prohibit America’s foreign adversaries including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia from purchasing or leasing U.S. farmland. Tester’s PASS Act would specifically empower the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to prohibit future purchases of farmland and agribusinesses by our foreign adversaries, and enable CFIUS to review all significant agriculture-related foreign investments using expert data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His Protecting America’s Agricultural Land from Foreign Harm Act would strengthen the Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA) to further empower the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review foreign ownership of American land. Tester has also introduced his bipartisan AFIDA Improvements Act of 2024 to strengthen reporting and enforcement of foreign investment in American farmland and agribusiness.
Tester secured his bipartisan PASS Act as an amendment to the FY24 Senate-passed version of the annual national defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Tester’s amendment was ultimately stripped out of the final NDAA by Speaker Johnson and House Republicans.